A San Francisco haircare startup raised $1 million from Alexis Ohanian’s VC firm to open a Drybar for women of color
- San Francisco startup Naza Beauty is opening a salon in the city’s Mission District that will cater to women of color with “coily, kinky, afro-textured hair.”
- The salon will essentially be the Drybar for women of color, with a menu of protective styles performed by trained stylists in under four hours.
- Naza Beauty has received $1 million in pre-seed funding by Alexis Ohanian’s Initialized Capital.
- The startup’s salon opening comes at a time when black hair and heritage are gaining more awareness in legislation and entertainment.
For women of color with textured hair, the hair salon experience has historically been an eight to 12 to even 17-hour affair.
San Francisco startup Naza Beauty has workshopped that time period down to four hours, founder and CEO Natanya Montgomery told Business Insider.
The hair care company offers protective styling and specialization for women of color whose coily, kinky, afro-textured hair has historically been shut out of the mainstream hair market.
Naza Beauty is set to fill that void, starting with its opening of a salon in San Francisco’s Mission district on February 22. The salon’s customers will be able to book via the company website, and through its proprietary booking payment and customization software, and choose among styles like braids, twists, sew-ins, and blowouts for sessions that are designed to be completed in under four hours by trained stylists.
It’s essentially a Drybar, but for women of color with textured hair.
And it has Alexis Ohanian’s Initialized Capital backing the company’s mission as well — the VC firm poured $1 million of pre-seed funding into the startup.
It’s refreshing news in an ecosystem that rarely supports or rewards black female entrepreneurs — less than 1% of VC cash fuels black women-founded startups.
Naza Beauty’s opening comes as more national and global awareness and celebration of black hair is finally picking up steam. The CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World) Act is designed to protect people from discrimination based on their hair texture and style. The act has been passed in New York, New Jersey, and California, and Washington state and Minnesota recently passed or introduced similar legislation, as TechCrunch’s Megan Rose Dickey reports.
And the Kickstarter-funded short film Hair Love, after garnering $284,058 in pledging on the crowdfunding site, won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film, proving that personal stories depicting and celebrating black hair and heritage are valued and deserve funding, despite the lack of mainstream studio interest.
For Montgomery, founding her company is, of course, personal. She told Business Insider that her earliest hair memories are not the fun ones you would think of. Her mother did her hair until she was seven, at which time she turned to a salon for braids, a session that took nine hours. That, she said, is a very normal experience for women of color with textured hair.
“I’ve been doing that once a month, every month, since then,” she said. “The experience has never gotten easier.”
Montgomery said she wished someone would build something better, and in 2017, realized that someone was her.
The salon is designed to let women of color know that they are represented and that “there’s a space where they could go without shame of what their hair looks like and the way that it grows out of their head,” Montgomery said.
Here’s how the startup plans to set up shop — and what the salon will look like.
SEE ALSO: The filmmakers of ‘Hair Love’ used their Oscars speech to advocate for the Crown Act, a bill that hopes to end hair discrimination
There are a million definitions in the natural hair world of what protective styling means, Montgomery told Business Insider.
“It’s not a phrase that is familiar to everyone,” she said.
But Naza Beauty defines it as styles that minimize the manipulation and chemical styling of natural hair. There are different variations included in the styles offered, like braids and twists.
And Montgomery said the company has perfected the process down to four-hour sessions, an unprecedented feat for women with afro-textured hair who are accustomed to anywhere from 8 to 12-hour — and beyond — salon sessions.
“We’re thinking a lot about what would resonate with women at that very, very tightest extreme on the textured hair spectrum,” she said.
Naza Beauty also addresses a void left in the market by modern hair brands attempting to fill the needs of women with textured hair.
“They’ll use terms like “Curly Girl” or “Curl-friend,” and at the beginning of the natural hair movement, that signals that this is the product that works for black girls and natural hair,” she said.
But, she said, despite these brands trying to be inclusive, in recent years what they’ve done is address only a very specific, looser type of curl.
“That’s come to be sort of the standard face of the natural hair movement, which is very different from the way it began,” she said.
A more nuanced spectrum of hair types needs to be taken into account, such as for women with afros, Montgomery said.
And the salon experience itself needs to be updated to cater to women with textured hair needs. Historically, the process has been riddled with uncertainty, she said.
“A lot of what’s difficult about the process of getting your hair done as a black woman in general anywhere is sort of anxiety of the unknown,” Montgomery said.
There’s making an appointment with a stylist, who may or may not be able to fit you in, then setting a date for a week or so in advance. Then, if you’re wanting extensions, picking out the hair and either going to the store to pick it up or ordering it online, hoping that it arrives in time for your salon appointment.
Many salons that cater to textured hair needs are cash-only, Montgomery said, so then you have to stop at an ATM on the way there to withdraw cash. And then you cross your fingers, hoping that your stylist is actually available to take you at the time that you booked.
And if you go to a more mainstream salon, there’s the looming “textured hair charge,” a common occurrence for black women with thicker hair. Stylists will sometimes upcharge you $25 to $50, claiming that it’ll take extra time and extra work.
“It’s an experience that can be really frustrating, and has been for a long time,” Montgomery said. “There’s never been any room for innovation.”
And so in 2018, a few months after she experienced a particularly long salon session, she officially began work on the company.
“I was just like, ‘Okay, this is real,'” she said. “‘This is valid, and I can do this.'”
The company’s San Francisco salon at 985 Valencia Street in the city’s Mission District has a hard opening of February 22nd. But a physical location is only one part of the startup’s broader goal.
Montgomery is also working to create product development opportunities for partners nationwide.
But for now, her decision to launch in San Francisco, a city with a rich African-American history and whose 21st-century population is increasingly dwindling, is intentional.
“The black women that are here are really interested in this problem and have a very invested interest in solving it,” Montgomery said.
This content was originally published here.